Get hooked on the Cuban rhythm in 48 hours in Havana
They talk about the thawing ice, but here the mojitos are served nice and cool. Life in Havana continues to flow to the rhythm of the Cuban beat, and we have 48 hours to get you hooked on it.
Many fear that it will change, but it’s begun to open up little by little without losing its true essence. It attracts us just as much as before, if not more. And we’re not the only ones. From January to July the number of international visitors has risen (including the Pope). What does this island have that conquers the hearts of all those who set foot there?
Our journey begins at el Capitolio (the National Capitol Building). It was built in the 1920s, taking Capitol Hill in Washington as its inspiration, but exceeding it in terms of size and decoration. Its majestic appearance in the centre of Old Havana made it one of the symbols of the city, even after the Castro-led revolution. It’s surrounded by colonial houses, with elegant balconies and aged facades, which in their day were painted vibrant colours. The 1950s cars and the rickshaw style “cocotaxis” parked around it complete a scene from another age. We’ll see this vision of glamour in decline throughout our whole walk through Old Havana.
Passing the Plaza de Armas and its street market for second-hand books, at number 207 in calle Mercaderes there’s a paladar (a private, family-run restaurant) where you can enjoy Creole food in a friendly atmosphere. In this area you’ll find new businesses, tattoo parlours, and a cleaned up Havana. You can see this at Café Bohemia, which has one of the most modern menus, right in la Plaza Vieja (the Old Square). Here you’ll also find the Fototeca of Cuba, which is a space devoted to photography that is well worth a visit. The old and the new live side by side in Havana, but there are still the real classics and you can’t leave without walking along Calle Obispo, which is a boulevard full of people, shops and art galleries, including iconic places such as the Hotel Ambos Mundos or the Floridita restaurant. The mojito at the La Bodeguita del Medio restaurant bar is almost obligatory, and it goes down better with a good Havana cigar. You can buy them at the Real Fábrica de Tabacos Partagás cigar factory and museum, which is close to el Capitolio.
You also have to walk along “el Malecón” avenue before you leave. Walk down it early on your second day, but don’t take too long because there’s a party every Sunday morning in Callejon Hamel. Live Afro-Cuban music can be heard between the colourful walls painted by the Cuban artist Salvador. Another place to enjoy art on the island is the Cuban Art Factory in the Nuevo Vedado district. This is an old peanut oil factory that has been converted into a cultural project, including galleries for concerts, performances and exhibitions.
You’ll find more artists, this time gastronomic ones, at the La Guarida paladar. This is an old palazzo, where the film ‘Strawberry and Chocolate’ was filmed. The paladar was opened shortly after, and it has become a favourite spot for celebrities. Jack Nicholson, Naomi Campbell, Pedro Almodóvar and many others have enjoyed its traditional food.
The final touch to a fun weekend is a few mojitos at the Tropicana cabaret club, a “paradise under the stars”. The colourful shows and the live music will get you hooked on Cuban rhythm and you’ll soon be singing ‘Guajira Guantanamera’ at the top of your lungs.
Source: Passenger 6a.